Adding fiber-rich vegetables to your meals is one of the easiest, tastiest, and most nutritious ways to get more fiber into your diet. And this is something most of us should probably pay more attention to.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, adults should consume between 25 and 38 grams of fiber daily. But many people fall far short of that goal and end up closer to 10 to 15 grams per day, experts tell TODAY.com. This can leave you feeling constricted and bloated. You may also notice that you feel hungry shortly after eating.
So how can you eat more fiber? High-fiber vegetables are a good place to start. Not only is there a large selection of delicious, versatile vegetables, but they are often also rich in other nutrients such as vitamin C and folic acid. That’s why a fiber- and gut-healthy diet can also help achieve other health goals.
Why is fiber so important?
Fiber is your system’s “road sweeper,” as Grace Derocha, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, puts it, helping to remove excess waste from your body. This maintains your ability to absorb nutrients from food and prevents constipation and bloating, Derocha tells TODAY.com.
Soluble fiber, which swells in water, slows the movement of food through your intestines. This helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, TODAY.com previously explained. Insoluble fiber serves the opposite purpose, meaning it pushes stool through your intestines more quickly. It also adds bulk to your stool and increases feelings of fullness after a meal, which can be helpful in weight loss.
It’s important to get both types of fiber with meals throughout the day, which can be challenging. But incorporating more plant foods, especially vegetables, into your diet is an easy way to get both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Because fiber is found in plants, filling your plate with plant foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes—is “a surefire way to increase your fiber intake,” says Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the university Saint Louis University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells TODAY.com
Vegetables, in particular, are rich in insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to your stool and speeds intestinal transit, says Linsenmeyer. “Because of these properties, the fiber found in vegetables can be particularly helpful in preventing or treating constipation,” she adds.
Fiber-rich vegetables to complement your meals
While all plants contain fiber, some earn “MVP status” because of their higher fiber content, says Linsenmeyer.
These high-fiber all-star vegetables include:
A medium-sized artichoke contains 7 grams of fiber, says Linsenmeyer. Cooking with artichokes can be a little intimidating due to the tough outer leaves. But they are surprisingly versatile and can be grilled, stuffed, steamed or braised.
Hearty vegetables like kale, kale, turnip greens, and spinach contain lots of fiber, says Derocha. Use these as a base for a vegetable-laden salad, tossed as a side dish for dinner, or mixed into a morning quiche.
One chopped cup of this colorful vegetable contains nearly 4 grams of fiber, according to the USDA. They also contain some natural fructose for an energy boost. Raw carrot sticks or baby carrots make a great, nutritious snack (especially when paired with some hummus or peanut butter), or roast them with a honey balsamic glaze.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are a good option if you want to add more fiber to your diet. Try adding roasted broccoli to meals with other fiber-rich foods like cauliflower, chickpeas, or Brussels sprouts. And yes, frozen broccoli works too!
This root vegetable contains nearly 4 grams of fiber per cup, according to the USDA, making it a nutritious and colorful addition to any salad or side dish. They also contain a good amount of folate, also called vitamin B9, which is helpful for development and heart health.
Another fiber-rich cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower is also rich in vitamin C and is an exceptionally versatile ingredient. Roasted cauliflower makes a great side dish (especially when topped with a flavorful sauce) or as an addition to salads. It can also be used as a substitute for starchy potatoes or rice in many recipes.
Both sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are nutritious root vegetables, each containing 3 to 4 grams of fiber per serving (with skin). There are countless ways to use potatoes in your meals, such as roasting them on a tray, baking them whole, or adding them to a casserole.
Because they tend to be starchy, you may want to pair sweet potatoes and potatoes with foods that are higher in filling protein and healthy fats, like chicken, salmon, or tofu.
Roasted Brussels sprouts are a classic holiday side dish. And these tiny vegetables contain a whopping 3 grams of fiber per half-cup serving, says Linsenmeyer. You can add variety by chopping the lightly cooked sprouts into a salad or cooking them on a tray with salmon and another high-fiber vegetable, asparagus.
Tomatoes may be a less obviously high-fiber vegetable, but Derocha has good reasons for including them on her list. With about 1.5 grams of fiber per medium tomato, according to the USDA, it’s easy to add this to any sandwich, pasta dish, or salad for a fiber boost.
Vegetables rich in prebiotic fiber
In addition to all the other health benefits of fiber, some certain fiber-rich vegetables also act as prebiotics, meaning they promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut, according to Linsenmeyer.
“We know how important the gut microbiome is to our overall gut health and the health of virtually all body systems,” she says. “You can think of prebiotic fiber as healthy food for the bacteria (that make up your gut microbiome) to help them thrive and multiply.”
This is fiber, often soluble fiber, that is not chemically digested in the large intestine, she explains, but is instead fermented by the good bacteria there.
Vegetables that contain prebiotic fiber include:
High-fiber vegetables are a great start to getting more fiber into your meals, but they’re far from the end of the road. Pair these vegetables with a variety of whole grains, fruits, beans, and legumes to get even more healthy fiber in every bite.